As I was working with a patient of mine, she noticed an educational poster in my office that had a few conditions listed on it like; ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia and Tourette’s. She has a child with Tourette’s and asked me a very logical question, what does chiropractic have to do with a condition that is a chemical problem in the brain? Great question, one that actually needs us to step back quite a ways to learn some fundamentals.
For the most part, 99% of the public has the idea that chiropractic is a form of therapy for back pain, neck pain or headaches. We have definitely helped millions of people around the world with those very problems for over 100 years. However, if you are open to it, I would like to give a small lesson on what is really happening. Every time you move a joint in your Healthy Body anywhere, let’s say your finger, there are small sensors in the finger joint that send a message to your brain to tell you where the new position of the finger is. This is vital to survive, because we need to know where all our Healthy Body parts are even if we are in a place that is pitch black. This ability of knowing where you are in space is called proprioception. Now, what is interesting is that almost half of your whole spinal cord is dedicated to just this task, but the most important aspect here is that about 90% of this type of stimulation going to the brain comes from movement of your spinal bones (vertebrae). This is a very important key to understanding the topic at hand. So, when chiropractors are helping your spine move better, what they are actually doing is helping your nervous system work better and as a consequence of the bones in your back moving properly, your brain will be stimulated by good proprioception as well. When you experience a physical, chemical or emotional stress that your Healthy Body can’t handle, one or more of the spinal bones can get stuck, or locked up and they irritate your nerves, chiropractors call this a subluxation in the spine. The goal of chiropractic in general is to help reduce subluxations in your spine to allow your Healthy Body’s master control system, the nervous system, to function properly thus allowing optimal healing and function in the Healthy Body and brain.
Now, up to the brain. There is a special point of focus for some in chiropractic called functional neurology. We are very interested in how different modalities we apply to the Healthy Body can influence the functioning of the brain. What we are finding is that Tourette’s along with many other neuro developmental disorders are in fact just variations of one condition. (I hope this sounds controversial!) Our idea is not that there is a genetic problem with no hope, or just a chemical – neurotransmitter- problem in the whole brain, but we are looking at it as a potential problem in the functioning of one hemisphere of the brain. We have coined this FDS or Functional Disconnection Syndrome. In fact, when you understand what each side of the brain does, you can account for all the symptoms of all these disorders. The left brain is the linear, one thing after the other side. It likes repetition, and sequential order. If the left hemisphere has circuits that are firing off time or are immature, this can lead to dyslexia & learning challenges because the sequence of things are off. In looking at Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADHD and in our focus here, Tourette’s, we identify these as a right hemisphere deficits. The right half of the brain is more responsible for big picture thinking, threat awareness & most importantly social skills! We say your left brain gives you IQ but your right gives you EQ (emotional quotient).
From conception to maturity, one side of your brain is actually developing faster than the other for a period of about 3 years then it switches to the other side. So, for the first 3 it is more right brain for survival skills and laying the groundwork to function socially as a human. Understanding potential dangers to self, knowing how to cry when hungry, being able to read Healthy Body language and understanding by the tone of mom’s voice if she is happy or upset at you. This is why the last 2 trimesters & early infancy are important for right brain disorders. If there is an insult to the brain during this time, depending on it’s location & severity, it can lead to some of the problems mentioned earlier. Our analogy is seeing your brain like a symphony orchestra on two sides of the stage. If a few of the players on the right side slow down a bit while they are playing the piece, the tune will be off a little. (this could be like a high functioning Asperger’s for example). If there is one person in each section on the right playing a bit slow, that could come across as ADHD. If the whole horn section and whole flute section on the right play slow, that could come across as a Tourette’s (tics & vocalizations). If almost all players on the right slow down that would be like a severe Autism case.
There is a neural loop in the right brain that has important implications (over simplified here). The most important part to understand is the area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. That area gives us what is known as executive function and puts the brakes on (inhibits) certain areas of that hemisphere that create activities that would not be socially acceptable, like punching your boss that you hate, or yelling and swearing all the time, etc. It has effects on an area of your brain called the basal ganglia, which is important in controlling motor function (Healthy Body movement). There is a small dense packed area at the back of the brain called the cerebellum which is important in many capacities with balance; however, it plays a big role in stimulating this important prefrontal cortex. Now, guess what has a big role in keeping the cerebellum charged up and firing toward the prefrontal cortex? Proper spinal bone movement! This is what makes a properly moving spine through chiropractic care so important to keep this neural loop functioning normally.
So, what would happen during a visit? We would initially take a health history on our patient, followed by a complete neurological and chiropractic exam. We would be using advanced technology on the spine like rolling thermography to measure the function of the autonomic nervous system, surface electromyography to measure objectively how tight the muscles are on both sides of the spine and also a test of heart rate variability that determines one’s overall adaptability to stress. A careful palpation of the bones of the spine would be done to determine if there are areas of lost motion or function in the spine and nerve system (Subluxations). Other functional neurology tests would also be done to determine the health of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. The care in our office uses a very gentle low force chiropractic technique called NSA or Network Spinal Analysis. It involves light brief contacts in very specific locations on the spine that cue the brain to have more awareness of itself and tension within the Healthy Body. There are 2 waves that develop spontaneously in the spine with this care; first a respiratory wave in which there is full expansive and focoused breathing that expands the spine spontaneously as a result of the contacts the doctor makes on the spine. The vertebrae & spinal cord release tension and this allows for greater spinal bone movement and a decrease in the bodies stress response (remember the proprioception stimulation to the brain?). Second, a somatopsychic wave, where in response to the doctors contacts at specific depths and in specific area, the Healthy Body responds with spontaneous deep muscle activation and more precise movements to break up deep seated tension patterns in the spine. From the functional neurology approach aspect, the patient may have certains sounds introduced to one ear, or certain specific movements applied to one side of the Healthy Body. Spinning exercises in a certain direction as well as fast stretches to one side of the Healthy Body or specific flashing lights to one eye will be utilized. All these proceedures to have an impact on the weaker hemishpere and provide more balance and coordination in the contolling system of the Healthy Body.